For the second time in three nights, the final result of a game for the Bruins was overshadowed by a scary situation involving an injury. Boston (19-8-2) beat Pittsburgh (20-10-1), 3-2, at TD Garden, taking their regular season series, 2-1, (the home team won each time). David Krejci tied it at two with 1:29 left in regulation and Zdeno Chara notched the game-winner with 13 seconds left. Bruins forward Loui Eriksson went down with a concussion in the first period (his second of the season) and Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik was knocked unconscious by enforcer Shawn Thornton’s uncharacteristic cheap shot later in the frame.
A visibly shaken Thornton actually took a few questions after the game, but since he has a hearing with NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan in person, he knows that he is facing a suspension (he received a match penalty). Eriksson won’t be available and Chris Kelly also suffered a lower body injury so he is out as well. That means the Bruins have to call up two players (both forwards) for Sunday night in Toronto.
“Nobody’s proud of what happened,” said Boston head coach Claude Julien. “There was a weird feeling throughout the game which tarnished this a little bit. The league will look into it but it was a real unfortunate situation, we all have to take responsibility.”
Pittsburgh grabbed a 1-0 lead in the first period as Chris Kunitz’s centering pass went off Chara’s skate and past Tuukka Rask (28 saves). Shortly after that, Boston tied it as Patrice Bergeron stole the puck and fed Reilly Smith for a slap shot that beat Marc-Andre Fleury (18 saves). Less than a minute later is when all hell broke loose: it started with James Neal kneeing Brad Marchand (who had been tripped by Sidney Crosby) in the head. A few moments later, Thornton went after Orpik (who had concussed Eriksson with a questionable hit) and his two rapid punches knocked out the BC product.
After a lengthy delay, Orpik was wheeled off on a stretcher, similar (albeit a different injury) to Johnny Boychuk in Montreal on Thursday.
Neal stepped out of the box and scored the go-ahead goal, which looked like it would be the game-winner until Boston’s late heroics. The win helped the Bruins keep pace with the Canadiens (one point ahead of them), who beat Buffalo, 3-2. Toronto won, 4-3, at Ottawa in a shootout so they won’t have much of an advantage in terms of rest over Boston.
What they'll be saying: Need proof that not every regular season contest is equal? There could be four episodes of "Behind the B" just based on this one game. The stakes were certainly high with arguably the two best teams in the Eastern Conference. Emotions spilled over after Eriksson and Orpik’s injuries which resulted in Julien and Pittsburgh head coach Dan Bylsma yelling at each other. It is a shame that these teams don’t meet again in the regular season. Then again, it would only be right if they renewed acquaintances when it really mattered this spring. You can’t defend Thornton’s lapse in judgment, but for what it’s worth, he had tried to engage Orpik after the hit on Eriksson, but Orpik wanted no part of it. That's not to say Orpik deserved the dirty cheap shot, but things aren’t so simple in hockey. So many plays in a game can lead up to the drama that unfolded Saturday. Chad Johnson should be in net Sunday for the Bruins and Jordan Caron won’t be a healthy scratch. It remains to be seen which Providence Bruin gets called up to take Eriksson and Kelly’s place.
Follow Metro Boston Bruins beat writer Richard Slate on Twitter:@RichSlate